Scaling back Christmas light switch-ons

By Katie Dawson
BBC News

Image caption,
Christmas lights are an important part of festive shopping in London's Oxford Street

Some local authorities in England are scaling back - or even cancelling - Christmas light switch-on events as they battle with budget cuts.

Standing in the cold watching the latest reality television star switch on the Christmas lights is a staple part of the festive calendar in towns and cities across England.

But this year, some events are being scaled back by councils as they decide how best to spend their reduced budgets.

In Walsall, councillors have decided not to have a switch-on event at all.

Last year's tree and switch-on celebration cost £20,000 and was organised by the Town Centre Management Partnership, which no longer exists.

The event featured former X Factor contestants Rachel Adedeji and Eoghan Quigg, and Britain's Got Talent dancer Aidan Davis.

"The reality is we simply don't have money spare in local government to do anything on that scale," said Walsall Council deputy leader Adrian Andrew.

Loyal shoppers

The council said it was not convinced that such an event brought many shoppers into Walsall.

It is looking into the possibility of doing something on a smaller scale but has yet to make any decisions.

"What we are doing is talking to businesses to look at how we can join forces to celebrate Christmas in Walsall town centre," Mr Andrew said.

"We are looking to fund a tree between us but I'm afraid without the epic switch-on event.

"This is about getting back to basics and having a stand alone Christmas tree without the razzmatazz of the past."

Angela Henderson, centre manager for Walsall's Saddlers shopping centre and member of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, said traders were disappointed, but said it would not have a detrimental effect on business.

"Walsall shoppers are loyal and this is their hometown and they do shop in it," she said.

"What the council had last year they have not got that money this year and something has to give.

"We need to make the best of what we have got."

Not all councils have been so austere with their switch-ons this year.

For the larger cities, such as London, Birmingham and Manchester, switch-ons attract tens of thousands of people.

Image caption,
X Factor winner Joe McElderry turned on the lights in Manchester

At Manchester's event on Friday, 20,000 people watched X Factor winner Joe McElderry press the button to light up the city.

The city council spent a similar amount to previous years - £50,000 on staging, stewards and security.

Sponsors funded the fireworks and celebrity performances.

Councillor Pat Karney, from Manchester City Council, feels it's important to put on such a huge public event.

"We believe in the current financial climate it is more important than ever to attract shoppers and other visitors to our city centre," he said.

However, pressure group the Taxpayers' Alliance said councils should be watching what they spent during the festive period.

Emma Boon, spokeswoman, said: "This isn't about having a bah-humbug attitude, it's about scaling things back a little, which is what many ordinary families will be doing as they struggle with the rising costs of the festive season.

Christmas parade

"Everybody should be able to enjoy the festive period, but taxpayers shouldn't be expected to pick up a hefty bill at the end of it."

Bromsgrove District Council in Worcestershire will not be paying for any acts to perform at its switch-on event and will instead be using local amateur performers.

It is also using more energy-efficient Christmas lights.

Chichester in West Sussex will not be having any Christmas lights because not enough money has been raised to pay for them.

The city council said it could only put £15,000 this year towards the bill for the lights, which last year came to £31,000.

It asked local businesses to contribute the rest but only £5,325 was raised by the deadline.

In many areas, traders have helped councils to meet the cost of switch-on events this year.

Cheltenham Borough Council had cancelled its event, which costs about £33,000, because there was no spare money to pay for it.

But an event will go ahead on Saturday after local businesses got together and decided to fund and organise it.

Councillors in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, have spent £96,000 on Christmas trees and lights throughout the borough but their switch-on event will be funded by local traders, saving the council £20,000.

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